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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Black and white photojournalism
Old 06-16-2012   #1
Dunn
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Black and white photojournalism

I've just been curious lately about the place of black and white photos within photojournalism. I pretty much never see published black and white photos.

Does black and white not have a place in photojournalism anymore? Do you have to be Sebastiao Selgado in order to do work in black and white for big clients? Do up-and-coming photojournalists have no choice but to shoot/process in color if they want to get work or be published?

I even saw some photos by Meridith Kohut in a NYTimes article that were in color but when I looked at her website the same photos were in black and white.
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Old 06-16-2012   #2
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Purely looking at the papers that I see, the magazines I read, news sites that I visit... I'd say black and white is pretty much dead in day-to-day journalism. I honestly can't remember when I last saw a B&W image in my paper.

I guess it's just a lot cheaper to print color then what it used to cost. And since every digital camera uses color as standard, it's no surprise that people's exposure to B&W dropped rapidly since their introduction. B&W is seen as artsy these days, so papers probably don't want to use it anyway for serious work. I actually work in journalism myself, and I have to admit... I wouldn't pick a B&W over a color image because of that reason.

Which is a shame, since I rather enjoy a good B&W image.
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Old 06-16-2012   #3
Graham Line
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I still see B&W images as occasional statements -- not common.
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Old 06-17-2012   #4
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Anecdotal evidence drawn from local newspapers will, no doubt, lead to a strong suspicion that B/W photojournalism is all but dead. Hard news does seem to almost always run with color photos, especially at the local level.

Samples drawn more widely seem to yield a different conclusion. Browsing several months worth of posts at the rather comprehensive and highly-regarded website http://photojournalismlinks.com shows the publication of a significant fraction of B/W essays. One can also peruse the websites of important agencies, like VII, Noor, Panos and Magnum for examples and see a similar result in terms of the production of stories. And photojournalism publishers like Lens at the New York Times, Lightbox at Time, and Burn magazine demonstrate a continuing commitment to B/W photos. I'm sure there are many additional examples that are unknown to me.

I think that when color photos suit the subject and are well-done, then they make for a stronger treatment than a B/W treatment. That could account for the prevalence of color stories. However, there are many subjects for which well-done B/W is clearly superior, and this will probably remain true until/unless there is some unpredictable cultural shift that eventually negates it. It seems, that has not yet occurred.
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Old 06-20-2012   #6
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my friend used to do internship at the SF chronicle and EVERYTHING had to be in color and JPEG only.
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Old 06-21-2012   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bjornkeizers View Post
I guess it's just a lot cheaper to print color then what it used to cost.
There are no savings in black and white (other than fractions of a cent for ink) any more, as just about every paper is printed in full colour throughout. The main source of income of every profitable paper is advertising - where colour sells ad space.
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Old 06-21-2012   #8
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I think in mainstream newspaper work you won't see it very much but it has been this way for more than a generation. In magazine work you'll see it more but there are still photojournalists out there, including myself, who are working in black and white, and even in film if you can believe it!

I don't think you need to be Salagado in order for film to be an appropriate choice for your work. I think you have to be dedicated.
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Old 06-21-2012   #9
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One of my pet hates is when media transforms news into drama. For example there will be a documentary in the UK about a series of murders, but they'll play spooky music whilst showing images of a creepy alley. Making entertainment from real tragedy in recent times I find pretty tasteless. By the same token I feel that shooting the terrible events in Syria or something in B&W for a "look" is pretty tasteless too. I'm not a PJ, but I feel that their job is to document the facts, and putting anything resembling an artistic slant on that appears to trivialise what is actually happening. For me, it's the same vein as when we heard of the awful earthquakes in Japan, and the first thoughts of some were whether their Sony NEX would be delayed.
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Old 06-21-2012   #10
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Quote:
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I feel that their job is to document the facts, and putting anything resembling an artistic slant on that appears to trivialise what is actually happening.
How would you document facts without any artistic slant? There is no such thing as a impartial document - even something as robotic and corporate as satellite images does show the intent and aesthetics of both the creators of the system and the editors picking the images finally shown.
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Old 06-21-2012   #11
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We are actually going back to an older discussion here about Art vs Photohournalism.

I have to agree with thegman. Artistic and aesthetic choices should not be a deciding factor in journalism. Photojournalism, being essentially journalism told in pictures, should have objectivity as it's main priority.
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Old 06-21-2012   #12
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How would you document facts without any artistic slant? There is no such thing as a impartial document - even something as robotic and corporate as satellite images does show the intent and aesthetics of both the creators of the system and the editors picking the images finally shown.
Well, I suppose if you really want to find artistic slant, you can probably find it. My point was probably less philosophical than that, and in an ideal world, a PJ should record scenes, and try to edit objectively, and not in line with a message they want to put across. If images are in black and white to make a scene seem more "gritty", then I personally don't think that is the place of a journalist.
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Old 06-21-2012   #13
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There is a difference between taking the photo in B&W and publishing it in B&W.

In an all-colour digital world (save for Leiac's new Monochrom) it would be an editorial choice to position the shot as a B&W in print or online.
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Old 06-21-2012   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sejanus.Aelianus View Post
It looked like all the monochrome on that page was old work, used for comparisons or to illustrate reports on exhibitions. Was there new stuff that I missed?
The "Articles" and "Interviews" posts on PJLinks do reference much old work, whether color or BW. New work is mostly found in the "Features and Essays" posts, and there one will find that nearly all links point to new work, including BW. The June 8 post includes several, for example.
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Old 06-21-2012   #15
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Quote:
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If images are in black and white to make a scene seem more "gritty", then I personally don't think that is the place of a journalist.
Agreed. But I don't perceive black and white as "gritty" - if any, it would give the story a "conservative" or "non-tabloid" touch. But perhaps values are different in the US, where colour in newsprint and TV had a very different (and earlier) timeline.
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Old 06-21-2012   #16
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Such things are a matter of fashion. The Independent newspaper in Britain was the bastion of monochrome reporting in its first 10 years or so but has bowed to commercial pressure and the pages are now festooned in colour images. I miss the Independent of old and I would buy it for the wonderful photos by amazing photographers like Brian Harris and David Rose. Who knows the wheel may turn and Mono may become cutting edge again soon?
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Old 06-21-2012   #17
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It's pretty hard to 'trivialize' something one has been living for months on end. Some of the people who have died here were new friends. The situation is bleak and very dark... B+W seems, to me, a very effective way of coveying that. The rockets and shells that rain down everyday fall on my head too. 'trivialize' seems way off the mark
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Old 07-04-2012   #18
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For one of the inside pages of my old paper, a feature story about a homeless camp. Fits for the subject, I think.
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Old 07-04-2012   #19
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All of the old Pulitzers were shot in B&W. Look at the Pulitzers of today. Digital.
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Old 07-05-2012   #20
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There is no such thing as objectivity! Once you decide to cover/shoot a subject, you are already subjective.. Occasionally one captures something unexpected that goes against one's own pre-conceived beliefs.Shooting it and later releasing it, if printed, of course would then be objective!
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Old 07-05-2012   #21
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+1 to that. +10, even. This is a very old discussion, but the fact is that as soon as you decide you need to take any picture, you have made an editorial decision. From that point on it's not a matter of WHETHER you're being subjective, but HOW you're being subjective.

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There is no such thing as objectivity! Once you decide to cover/shoot a subject, you are already subjective.. Occasionally one captures something unexpected that goes against one's own pre-conceived beliefs.Shooting it and later releasing it, if printed, of course would then be objective!
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Old 07-13-2012   #22
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The following are (very crappy) cell phone pics of negatives of a woman injecting heroin, for a documentary project I am doing. Actual prints or a proper film scan is coming later. I feel it would've lost a certain touch in color digital.





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Old 07-13-2012   #23
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Hi

Yes: good photojournalism
Yes: Black & White / Colour / Infra Red / pencil sketch on a wet cocktail napkin
The key is "good" work/research/photos etc.

Hows about 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner Barbara Davidson? Nine out of ten doctors agree it's black & white. http://photogallery.thestar.com/976873

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